T cells engineered to express chimeric antigen receptors (CARs) targeted to CD19 are effective in treatment of B-lymphoid malignancies. However, CARs recognize all CD19 positive (pos) cells, and durable responses are linked to profound depletion of normal B cells. Here, we designed a strategy to specifically target patient B cells by utilizing the fact that T-cell receptors (TCRs), in contrast to CARs, are restricted by HLA. Two TCRs recognizing a peptide from CD20 (SLFLGILSV) in the context of foreign HLA-A*02:01 (CD20p/HLA-A2) were expressed as 2A-bicistronic constructs. T cells re-directed with the A23 and A94 TCR constructs efficiently recognized malignant HLA-A2(pos) B cells endogenously expressing CD20, including patient-derived follicular lymphoma and chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) cells. In contrast, a wide range of HLA-A2(pos)CD20(neg) cells representing different tissue origins, and HLA-A2(neg)CD20(pos) cells, were not recognized. Cytotoxic T cells re-directed with CD20p/HLA-A2-specific TCRs or CD19 CARs responded with similar potencies to cells endogenously expressing comparable levels of CD20 and CD19. The CD20p/HLA-A2-specific TCRs recognized CD20p bound to HLA-A2 with high functional avidity. The results show that T cells expressing CD20p/HLA-A2-specific TCRs efficiently and specifically target B cells. When used in context of an HLA-haploidentical allogeneic stem cell transplantation where the donor is HLA-A2(neg) and the patient HLA-A2(pos), these T cells would selectively kill patient-derived B cells and allow reconstitution of the B-cell compartment with HLA-A2(neg) donor cells. These results should pave the way for clinical testing of T cells genetically engineered to target malignant B cells without permanent depletion of normal B cells.
Keywords: B-cell malignancies; CD20; T-cell receptor; gene therapy; haploidentical allogeneic stem cell transplantation; immunotherapy.